Federal officials yesterday proposed $32,100 in safety fines for two companies operating in the Danvers chemical plant that blew up in November in one of the state's most devastating industrial mishaps.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it found 23 serious violations that it says could have resulted in death or serious physical harm to employees and that the companies should have known about. Only willful serious violations are worse.
The fines were determined by agency formulas. OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said the administration took into account the number of employees at each firm and their previous safety records when setting the fines. "These are smaller companies, and neither has a history of OSHA violations," said Fitzgerald.
But some Danvers residents were outraged that the total was far less than repair costs to many of their houses, not to mention the millions in overall damage to the neighborhood.
"I can't believe it; it's not enough," said retired teacher Andrea Daley, who owns two houses that she says sustained $300,000 in damage."
"It's basically a slap on the wrist," said Ed Sanborn, 42, who estimates that his house had $40,000 in damage. "The reality is that no amount of money could pay for the lives disrupted. There was a lot of psychological damage."
Both companies, Arnel Co. and CAI Inc., can appeal the ruling. But the proposed fines largely end the punishment phase of the investigation into the Nov. 22 blast, which damaged or destroyed 270 houses and businesses and sent glass shards and debris raining on the waterfront residential enclave.
A previous investigation by another federal agency, the US Chemical Safety Board, concluded that the explosion resulted from improper handling of flammable chemicals by the firms and that slipshod oversight by local, state, and federal agencies allowed the hazardous conditions to persist.
Although OSHA did not cite a cause for the explosion, its findings significantly overlapped those released last month by the Chemical Safety Board.
Georgetown-based CAI, an ink manufacturer, was issued 13 citations and faces $18,000 in fines.
CAI spokeswoman Cheryl B. McLarney said the firm had received OSHA's report and was "carefully reviewing this report and will prepare a formal response to the agency within the next week."
Danvers-based Arnel, a paint manufacturer, was hit with 10 violations and $14,100 in proposed fines.
Arnel officials did not return calls seeking comment. The company has scheduled a meeting with OSHA to discuss the case, said Fitzgerald.
OSHA cited both companies for failing to properly vent chemical tanks, improperly storing and transferring chemicals, parking unapproved forklifts in flammable material areas, and routinely shutting fire doors.
CAI was also cited for improper pipes connected to the tanks, lack of a hazard analysis of the firm's chemical mixing system, lack of employee safety training, and various problems with its operating procedures.
Arnel was also cited for an improper emergency exit route, substandard disposal of flammable cleaning rags, unlabeled underground storage tanks, and inadequate safety training.
The Chemical Safety Board determined that the blast was caused by a buildup of flammable chemicals from a 3,000-gallon tank within the plant. The resulting chemical cloud was ignited by an unknown source. Those investigators also said that CAI employees neglected to keep the ventilation system turned on, which could have flushed the flammable cloud into the outside air and prevented the blast.
The blast caused more damage than any other explosion investigated in the safety board's nine-year history. In addition to affecting 270 homes and businesses, the explosion damaged about 300 vehicles and 65 boats.
Nearly 50 families remain unable to return to their homes. More than 200 insurance claims totaling several million dollars have been filed.
Daley said the blast inflicted such severe damage on one of her houses that it will be torn down. The other is undergoing extensive repair. She said insurance will only cover part of the $300,000 bill.
"I have a full-time job right now fighting with the insurance companies," she said.
Raja Mishra can be reached at email@example.com.